Protesters block the road in front of Belfast City Hall to protest a decision to limit display of the union flag. (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)
Protesters block the road in front of Belfast City Hall to protest a decision to limit display of the union flag. (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)

Two journalists attacked in a week in Northern Ireland

London, December 19, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed that two attacks against journalists in Northern Ireland have taken place over the past week. On Friday, a pipe bomb was left at the door of the home of freelance press photographer Mark Pearce. On Monday, Adrian Rutherford, a reporter with the daily Belfast Telegraph, was attacked by a gang while covering Loyalist protests in East Belfast.

Early Friday morning, police alerted Pearce, who has worked as a photojournalist for more than 20 years and frequently covers political rallies and demonstrations, that a pipe bomb was planted in front of his home in Carraig Crosain near Newry, County Down, according to local news reports. Pearce, his partner, and two children, evacuated along with the occupants of five neighboring homes. The photojournalist believes the bomb was in connection to his work, as reported by the Guardian, BBC, Belfast Telegraph and other U.K. media.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland told CPJ it is too early to confirm whether the bomb attempt was related to Pearce’s journalism but will follow all lines of inquiry.

In a separate case, on Monday, a masked mob chased Rutherford down the street, assaulted him, and stole his mobile phone. Northern Ireland has witnessed two weeks of demonstrations by loyalists opposed to Belfast city council’s decision to cut the number of days the union flag flies above city hall.

The National Union of Journalists condemned both attacks.

 “We call on law enforcement authorities in Northern Ireland to act swiftly and efficiently in investigating the attacks against Mark Pearce and Adrian Rutherford, and bring all perpetrators to justice,” said Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator in New York. “It is alarming to see journalists in Northern Ireland confronting what appears to be an increasing number of attacks.”

The two attacks are the latest of several disturbing incidents involving the press in Northern Island this year. In early December, a Belfast-based Associated Press photographer, Peter Morrison, was injured when caught up in a violent clash between police and demonstrators.

In August, a Belfast journalist received death threats reportedly from the Ulster Defense Association, an outlawed vigilante group reportedly formed to protect Protestants from alleged attacks by Irish republicans. (The group officially ended its armed campaign in November 2007.) Local publications withheld the journalist’s identity.

Violence against the press is a raw issue in Northern Ireland. In 2001, prominent investigative journalist Martin O’Hagan was shot dead by paramilitaries, in front of his wife, as the couple was leaving a pub in the town of Lurgan. O’Hagan’s killing remains unsolved.